Many years ago, when I first started getting serious about writing, I took Robert McKee’s very popular story structure seminar. It was particularly famous for McKee’s scene by scene (sometimes frame by frame) analysis of the movie Casablanca.
At the point where Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s Rick and Ilsa confront each other for the first time, he froze the movie on each face, and declared:
“This is when movie stars had FACES!”
He was right.
They also had VOICES.
So it’s no surprise that popular movie stars of Hollywood’s golden era also did radio shows. During 1951-1952 Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall capitalized on their onscreen and personal chemistry, as well as their very distinctive voices, with a radio show called Bold Venture. The show capitalized on more than that–it took various elements of their most popular screen personas and mixed them up together.
Written by Morton Fine and David Friedkin, the show concerns one Slate Shannon (Bogart) and his ward/would-be lover Sailor Duvall (Bacall). Slate owns a hotel in Havana and Sailor owns a boat called the Bold Venture. As characters of varying repute make their way through the hotel, Slate and Sailor become involved in a seemingly endless parade of mysteries/intrigues.
Slate is a mish-mash of several Bogart characters, including his leading roles in Casablanca and To Have and Have Not. Cynical yet principled, he finds himself trying to help various people out of trouble or bringing people who cause trouble (including murder) to justice. Sailor is a very Howard Hawksian heroine and definitely puts one in mind of Slim from To Have and Have Not.
There’s a lot of romantic banter between the two, though Slate seems determined to keep Sailor at arm’s length, perhaps because of their legal relationship. Their romantic status remains a perpetual question mark, even though it’s pretty obvious they want to sleep together, if nothing else.
Along with Slate and Sailor, the other major character is Calypso singer King Moses (Jester Hairston). He is a “Sam from Casablanca” type of character, who links scenes with musical interludes.
The stories themselves are just O.K. mystery fare. (Spoiler alert: if a character has a foreign accent, he or she will probably not survive the episode.) But who cares, really? Just listening to those familiar and wonderful voices bantering with each other is enough of a reason to listen to these recordings.
Lauren Bacall has long been a favorite actress of mine, mainly because I love her confident, tough persona. How odd it was to learn from reading her autobiography that she suffered most of her life from a lack of confidence. Her husky voice was actually an affectation. She also seemed to exude a certain sophistication, yet when she first arrived in Hollywood (and met Bogart, who was older and already married) she was actually very naïve. It’s a fabulous contradiction that I completely forget about every time I see one of her movies–or listen to her voice in one of these radio shows.